Archive for September, 2012

Following the news about the Chicago Teachers Strike, I found other interesting things to read about education in general, which only served to confirm that leaving the teaching profession was the best thing for so many reasons.  How to conquer this behemoth?

Here’s a very entertaining, but slightly frightening, bit of satire for your weekend cup of coffee.  I enjoyed (I think!).

The Tiniest Test Takers by Studentslast.blogspot.com

The caption reads: Pearson-provided sonogram of 
fetus taking ELA exam. Sadly,
test scores prove fetus is merely average.

Image courtesy of studentslast.blogspot.com

Here’s the piece:

http://studentslast.blogspot.com/2012/09/the-tiniest-test-takers.html#links

I read another article in the Washington Times which focused on the deluge of standardized testing on kindergartners in other states in this country.  I think I’ll stop reading for the night.  Why aren’t we challenging the presidential candidates on the absolute dire necessity of addressing education in this nation?  It’s depressing and frightening as a mother.  It is terrifying as a citizen of this nation that I love.

Earlier this summer, as I began the ritual of camps for number 5, I was waiting to pick her up, along with several other parents.  We had the same look on our faces, akin to the look a person has on their face as they prepare for an injection of Novocaine.  (By the way, how is it that we have landed on other planets but can’t find an easier way to numb the gums?)

The shock of the day began with a cute tow-headed boy and his lovely svelte blond mother who were seated nearby at another picnic table.  It went something like this:

“You’re so stupid!  I don’t even know why I listen to you!  You don’t even know what you’re talking about!  Just shut up already!”

Is your mouth hanging open now?  No?  Maybe you’re not surprised at all, considering the state of this country.  It doesn’t matter how often I see this, I’m still profoundly disturbed when I encounter things like this.

Before I share mom’s response, let me preface by setting the stage.  This is Chapel Hill.  Home of the Tar Heels (crap).  It has the highest property taxes in the state of North Carolina.  Only the best of the best, the wealthiest, classiest, and most educated people live here.  Let’s not forget how progressive Chapel Hill people are as well.

Whatever! (My students would be proud to see me be so avant garde here!)

In Chapel Hill, children are bright, well-adjusted, two-parent loving, bible thumpers.  Their understated yet over-priced clothing is a testament to their right to belong in this upper echelon of society.  Enough said.

So, mom crumples up into a ball of embarrassment, turns her head away from her handsome son, probably in an effort to hold back tears, and they proceed to give each other the silent treatment.  I shared this scenario with my mate. He said, “The kid probably treats  her like that because that’s how the father talks to her too.”  I don’t know if that’s true or not.  But I know this:

If this is what it takes to raise good kids, in a good neighborhood, surrounded by good people, then give me an urban, crowded, loud, crime-ridden town any day.  I don’t want my children to grow up with this sense of entitlement that is pervasive around here.

Side note:  One day while still teaching, I was talking to my doctor about blood work results, when a foreign exchange student from Sweden waltzed into my room (my lunch period) and sat down to read a book.  I looked at her as though she must have fallen and bumped her head, and asked her if she needed anything, to which she replied, “No, it’s just too noisy out there.”  THE AUDACITY.  The NERVE.  How dare she assume she could take such liberties, and stroll into my classroom without knocking or asking if it was alright to sit there?  I didn’t even know her.

I completely agree with this quote by John Rosemond, a parenting expert:

What’s happening in America today is parents are emphasizing their relationships with their children instead of leadership.  Anyone in leadership will tell you, you cannot have a warm, fuzzy relationship with people you are in charge of leading. 

His parenting approach is no nonsense, realistic, and perhaps a bit traditional in comparison of the last few decades of “be your child’s friend” garbage.  This is a huge part of the problem in education today.

I may sound harsh here, but I have told my own children the following life and death mantras too many times to count:

1. I wish you would try to talk to me like that…or roll your eyes at me…or twist your neck at me…or dare to even raise your voice above a whisper.

2. ‘I don’t know’ is not an answer.

3. If you ever think you’re too big for a spanking, rest assured, I will stand on a chair and take you down if necessary.

Truthfully, I was disgusted by that mother, repulsed by her weakness and at the same time, afraid I would remain in this Stepford-like town for so long that I would succumb to the “let’s all be friends club”.  As a “former” teacher, I stand firm that a good number of the children’s problems stem from parents who are afraid to be parents. They’re so afraid of screwing up the way THEIR parents did that they’re inadvertently screwing their kids up.  Wait, I think I just screwed myself up!

To that end, here’s a recent picture of my three baby boys and a family friend, (the other half, the three girls were running around elsewhere) in an epic Nerf Gun Battle Showdown.  My role was simply the countdown to annihilation person and photographer.

Aside from the obvious violent subtleties, aren’t they cute?

I just spent an hour trying to figure out how to rotate this and I give up.  All suggestions are welcome.  I clicked on the edit photo icon in the top left corner but all it allowed me to do was crop.  I’m using the desktop today and it’s getting arthritis.  Sorry.  Anyway, that’s half the volleyball team of mine.

Parents, it’s time to wake up and stop being your children’s friend.  Stop giving them everything; you’re making it so hard for those of us who can’t.  Step up, put your big girl panties and boxers on, and stop ending your orders to your kids with, “Okay?”

I’m off to Fedex!  Ciao!

This is probably very cliche, but during my first year of teaching, in an Atlanta high school, as I faced fresh assaults each day from students who needed me more than I needed them (or so I told myself at the time), my department chairperson, the venerable saint, Naomi Hyder, told me, “Once those kids know how much you care, you will win them over.”  So, when they were throwing newspapers at me, laughing at me, trying to trip me, and a host of other entertaining activities, I kept reminding myself of her words, as I fought back the tears.

Eventually, it clicked. I grew to love the identical Cason twins, who were funny and sweet and quite bright. Felons and delinquents began hanging out with me during lunch.  They hated “that junk” they called Shakespeare and I learned to decipher their Ebonics, as we proceeded to work together in English Comp.

A small group of these children became my babies and we are still friends to this day.  I treasure their friendship and trust.  I’ve learned so much about life from listening to their stories and sharing my big mother’s heart to include them in my maternal embrace.  We’ve tried to get together at least once a year and have dinner.  Last year we came together, a mish mash of children, both mine and theirs, and spent a lovely day together, reminiscing and laughing our heads off.   I don’t know if they remember what iambic pentameter is, but they remember Shakespeare and they all graduated.

So, what does America need from teachers?

Adam Edgerton makes some outstanding points in his post on Huffingtonpost.com about teaching and education in the following article, “Why I Quit Teaching:”

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/adam-kirk-edgerton/teachers-unions-issues_b_1856371.html

It is difficult to reconcile with myself that I too quit teaching and feel like a loser for it feels as though I have abandoned all the kids I was supposed to meet and help wade past the muck of their lives to see their potential and guide them toward a little bit of knowledge. No, I certainly don’t miss “Sam” who sat back pretentiously each day and informed me of his complete and utter interest in my class because he was far too intellectually superior.  But being a teenager is hard and it is the calling of a teacher who is conscious of the complexities that cloud the lives of teenagers and tries to make learning relevant to life’s conundrums.

So many teachers have been inspired themselves by memorable figures who guided them and molded them and then set them off into the world, just a little bit wiser. I had those too.  Sister Margaret Dempsey, Mrs. Maria Pinto, Ms. Valente…these figures surely have a special place reserved for them in heaven.  People like these affirm my belief in a greater power and negate all that atheists profess.  People like them, and maybe people like me, have made a difference in so many lives, and inspired them to hang on when life seemed overwhelming.

See, I was a child who suffered terrible abuses at the hands of a relative, for years.  My body was a sexual sadist’s playground for half my childhood.  But my story is not unique.  Turn on the television and you’ll see.  Nevertheless, it made me stronger and it defined who I wanted to be as a mother and how I wanted to protect my own family.  It also aided my intuitiveness when I spotted the signs of students who needed someone to give a damn about them and their personal hell.

Anyway, I like Edgerton’s perspective on the problems, the abuses heaped on teachers, and also the tip of the iceberg on a solution for education.  The comments from so many teachers who also quit teaching made me think all night and almost made me cry because I felt that I wasn’t alone in what I had endured and battled for years.  Maybe some computer programming guru can create a site for teachers to come together and share and build a strong enough voice to make the case for education heard.

The blame in all of this, including the recent scandal in the athletic department at UNC, lies not with the athletes, but with faculty members, department heads and athletic departments who are willing to cheat the system in order to keep athletes academically eligible to play.

As one coach told me at a party: “Athletic departments, and that includes high schools, will do anything to keep their players eligible. Nothing will change unless there are major reforms. The cheating will continue. Just don’t get caught!.”  (http://www.chapelhillnews.com/2012/09/08/72842/the-lesson-of-college-athletics.html 

 

These are the kinds of topics that burn me up, that make a quiet Sunday an inner hothouse and compel me to speak my mind instead of working on my latest Pinterest project.  As I sipped my delicious, life-altering coffee in my favorite Minnie Mouse mug, memories flooded back to different occasions where I was the victim of the Athletic Supremacy Game.

It’s a racket.

It’s corruption in its purest form (Is that an oxymoron?).

It is reprehensible to me.

Let me go back to the year 2005.  I had a six month old baby, and four other children and was trying my hardest to teach in an inner city school I transferred to when my earlier school closed down.  This school had frequent lock downs, stabbings, weapons smuggled into the building, and everything that was anything was going on in that school except learning.  I don’t think they gave Bill Gates a tour of this particular school when the powers that be were actively sucking millions of dollars from his vast pockets.

I had a group of students who needed me and I believed in them so I was giving it my all.  One student in particular concerned me because his attendance was sporadic and when he was in class, it was clear to me the reason he avoided English class.  He could hardly formulate a coherent sentence on paper.  Like many kids, he disguised it underneath his ultra-cool, casual, “whatever” demeanor.  But most experienced teachers can see right through those flimsy curtains.

Here’s what was “special” about this young man.  He was gargantuan in height.  Granted, everyone is tall when standing next to me, but this was the NBA player kind of tall.  Guess what sport he played? How did I know this?  His coach came to visit me regularly, to ask how his star player was doing, and graciously tell me of his future plans to play college ball, and so on…(yawning)…

Naturally, it was all very proper until the end of the semester, when the after school visits began.  See, there was no way on this earth that the future NBA star was going to pass my class. He: never completed assignments, never studied, rarely attended class…need I say more?  All the coach’s promises that he would work with him on assignments throughout the year were meaningless, so they correlated perfectly with this failing grade.

I was finally told at point-blank range, that he needed to pass English and “let me get some make up work for him and I’ll make sure he does it.”  Whenever I hear the words “Let me get some make up work…” my brain begins to spin and spots begin to form behind my eyes, which results in a dazzling array of reds and purples.  Suffice it to say, I can’t see straight for a moment. I refused to just pass him along, and the matter was taken out of my hands because the school changed his grade for him.

Now fast forward a few years, three to be exact.  My first child applied to a couple of schools, one of them the Georgia Institute of Technology, or Georgia Tech, a fine school.  I felt that the application fee was a waste of money because he didn’t really have the discipline to join the ranks of elite geekdom genius that is Ga. Tech.  But far be it from me to shatter my child’s dream.  He had a great transcript, natural above average intelligence (from his mama!) and was a god with computer intricacies.  But he didn’t make it into Georgia Tech, which was fine with me.

Guess who did the next year? Mr. NBA future Kobe Bryant himself.  If I was feeling particularly daring, I would throw all caution to the wind and reveal this NBA player’s name, but I haven’t had quite enough coffee for that random act of rashness.

If you read the article from Dr. Barber at the top, you will see that this favoritism towards athletes extends all the way up to the college level.  I try not to get caught up asking too many questions but I wonder:  why do so many fans pay millions of dollars collectively to cheer and shout and fanatically wear a school’s colors for athletes who have snuck in the back door and are not able to meet the academic rigor that is college?  Why is it okay for them to sneak in and then get a “free ride” when I have thousands of dollars in student loans for my college education that I busted my behind to earn? Because I can’t dribble a ball? Maybe I’m not tall enough.

I’ll tell you why.  It’s because everyone in America is sweltering in a cesspool of their own hypocrisy.  The wealthy alumnae proudly tie their collegiate sweaters around their shoulders, carry their foam seat cushions and drive their Lexus (understated elegance of course) sedans to the arenas and stadiums to cheer for their school, proud to sit like royalty in their VIP seats.  What is America cheering for?  Shortcuts? Favors? Corruption?

And these same hypocrites are the ones who tsk tsk when public schools aren’t performing as they should be, and children are dropping out at an alarming rate. Or teachers want to strike!

My partner always says: “Leadership starts at the top.”  when If our leaders engage in dirty educational favors for America’s favorite pastime, SPORTS, then what do we expect from our children? Our teachers?

Life has been a compendium of opposites.  I believe it all started in elementary school, when at least 80% of the Catholic priests in New York City looked like the billboard models you see up high in Times Square.  Humans are always fascinated with what they can’t have, drawn to the idea of forbidden desires.

Naturally, my favorite television features were of a similar theme: The Thorn Birds (who could forget this series?), The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, and even the obnoxious but cute The Nanny.  I followed just such a vein in my own pursuits by going against the grain of expectation and marrying a solid Irish/English-American WASP.  Although I did manage to inculcate him into the delicious world of Puerto Rican cuisine, it was a marriage doomed from the start.

One other show I enjoyed, and have seen every episode at least twice, was Who’s the Boss?, starring Tony Danza, who has aged quite well.  The friendship of Tony and Angela, played by  Judith Light, was another lesson is opposites, and their eventual love for each other was simply the cream cheese icing on the cake for me.  I ate it up.

Thus, I was pleasantly surprised to read this article and view this video about Tony Danza’s experience as a high school teacher:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/30/tony-danza-says-we-need-to-apologize-to-teachers_n_1843425.html

It seems Tony Danza has written a book about education and the year he spent teaching in Philadelphia.  What’s more, he is passionately expounding on the situation teachers face, with the myriad of problems teenagers bring to the classroom each day, and how it affects teachers.  It’s about time!

It’s also interesting to note the imminent strike in Chicago’s Public Schools, which will have a powerful impact on hundreds of thousands of students.  I say STRIKE!  Check out the link on my front page for this article.

It’s time to stop talking about an empty chair and deal with the reality in the classrooms, the ineffectiveness of administration, the bureaucracy that has saturated this country worse than the levees in New Orleans.  It’s election time.  Teachers all over this country should stand up and demand to be heard.

It’s just like gas prices.  If everybody had taken heed to the mass emails telling Americans to stay away from all gas stations on a certain day, it would have forced the prices down.  In just such a way, if teachers banded together with a common focus and set of goals, someone might actually take them seriously.  Someone might begin to notice.

One of the problems is that we are a world saturated with information.  News flits into our consciousness for a matter of minutes, and promptly leaves, to be replaced by more and more information, which does exactly the same thing.

Non-educators say we’re always griping about money, and we should be grateful to have so much vacation time.  Look at the blogs and books about education in other countries like Finland, where teachers are educated and treated on the same level with doctors.  They are afforded the same level of respect (and salary) as those life-savers.  The custodian at my last school was earning a higher salary than me.

I believe, however, that teachers want more than just money.  I would have gladly accepted the same salary for another year if it meant all the other crap would change.

What crap? The power-hungry, anal administrators, the assault of standardized testing, the blame game upon teachers, the psycho parents, the lack of resources, the lack of instructional time, the glorifying of sports over academics, etc.  The list goes on.

Clearly, fixing education is a daunting task.  But it must start somewhere.  Good for you Tony Danza!  Thanks.